Lyle Stewart, Saskatchewan’s minister of agriculture, discussed the challenges ahead for the agriculture industry during the 17th annual Irrigation Conference Tuesday.
“It’s like they say: whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over — and we’re going to have that fight in this province,” Stewart said in a speech to the conference’s nearly 100 attendees. “If we don’t use it, someone else will. That’s the facts of life.”
An integral part of the strategy for water utilization, Stewart said, is the development of irrigation networks across the province.
“Irrigation in Saskatchewan improves the productivity, diversification and competitiveness of our farms. It also contributes significantly to the sustainability and growth of the agriculture industry as a whole,” he said. “That’s why it’s been a priority of the government and an important component of the ministry of agriculture’s crop strategy.”
Since 2008, the federal and provincial governments have invested almost $30 million in irrigation expansion and rehabilitation, Stewart said, noting that the province is spending $5 million per year on rehabilitation alone.
“Water and irrigation are an important part of the provincial growth plan,” he said. “In fact, I don’t remember a time when agriculture in general was such a prominent priority for a provincial government.”
In an interview with the Times-Herald, Stewart expounded on his earlier comments regarding the challenges the province would face if it doesn’t “begin to talk about water utilization rather than just conservation.”
“We use two per cent of our flow-through water in this province. Alberta is at 98 per cent. If we don’t start to use some of that water, I expect that they will,” said Stewart. “It’s bound to become an issue if there’s no demand for water on this side of the border and huge demand on the Alberta side.”
A cornerstone of the province’s plan to increase water use is to develop the irrigation network in Qu’Appelle district, which Stewart said would be a boon to Moose Javians due to the district’s proximity to the Friendly City.
“Irrigation can have a bigger impact on Moose Jaw than, I think, any other city in the province,” he said. “If the Qu’Appelle irrigation project is developed, Moose Jaw will be right in the backyard of that project and in a terrific position to capitalize on the huge spinoff that always follows an irrigation project of that magnitude.”
“With just the development of the irrigation area, the economic spinoff, and food processing that accompanies those kinds of projects, Moose Jaw is in a great spot,” added Stewart. “I would expect that irrigation project would be the biggest single contributor to Moose Jaw’s economy in a relatively short time after its completion.”